- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 7, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY;

America is a nation at war, and our Navy and Marine Corps are focused on achieving victory in Iraq, Afghanistan and wherever terrorist enemies may be found. Given this focus, we must examine the full range of implications of today’s war.

Our nation’s maritime strategy reaffirms the use of seapower to influence actions and activities at sea and ashore, and adds to the core applications of naval warfare. Where tensions are high or where there is a need to demonstrate a commitment to security, we will aggregate forces to limit conflict or deter major war.

Our maritime forces will also be positioned and tailored to support humanitarian operations, counterpiracy efforts, and the training of partner nations. These new core capabilities move us to adopt persistent global presence as a key tenet of our strategy. The increasing desire for presence is one of the driving factors in decisions on fleet size and fleet composition.

I remain concerned that the value of presence is underappreciated. The world is a far more connected and interdependent globe today than it was in years past. Nations have moved away from the idea that they must have economic self-sufficiency and have largely recognized the value of trade.

Goods are globally sourced, and nations are dependent on suppliers for the necessities of life from every continent: energy resources from Africa and South America as well as from the Middle East; raw materials from South America, Africa and Australia; finished products from China, and food stuffs from North America. Of this world trade, fully 90 percent of it is transported by sea.

We can no longer afford to focus our attention on only a few specific areas or choke points. For much of the 20th century, the United States and Great Britain — as the preeminent seapowers of the day — maintained freedom of the seas by focusing on three major chokepoints — Suez, Panama and Gibraltar.

Those days are gone.

With today’s global economy, maritime security has a major claim on our attention. Minor shocks and interruptions to the flow of trade at sea can have dramatic, instantaneous effects that reverberate worldwide. Safeguarding this source of food, energy and goods is critical to the world’s economy. Global conditions and trends have driven us to put a higher premium on maritime security around the globe and the need to increase our worldwide presence. We cannot maintain global maritime security by ourselves. We will need to form maritime partnerships.

We are advocating more cooperation among nations that share a common stake in international commerce, safety, security and freedom of the seas. Maritime partnerships and cooperation will promote global maritime security. However, even if we achieve great success in establishing partnerships, we will need to increase presence to develop and maintain those partnerships.

We are tasked with executing many missions, and each mission has an impact on our future fleet.

We must prevail in the Global War on Terror.

We must deter and dissuade threats from potential peer competitors.

We must be capable of winning the high-end wars that we hope never to have to fight.

Certainly, these are priorities about which there is very little disagreement. The hard part is calculating the risks associated with each, and deciding what levels of risk are acceptable. Whether looking at the strategic or operational environment, the Department of the Navy must balance risk daily. While we must plan for high-end contingencies, we must carry out today’s operations on the low end, in support of the war on terrorism, and for enhanced maritime cooperation.

These multiple requirements compel us to develop a portfolio of combatant ships. We need aircraft carriers, amphibious ships, submarines and other large combatants - but we also need smaller, less expensive warships. Not every crisis requires an aircraft carrier’s supremacy. A range of ship types allows us to better match ship capabilities and size to missions. Smaller ships are more appropriate to some missions, while also being better suited for engagement with the navies of our maritime partners. Moreover, the inclusion of these smaller, less expensive ships in our portfolio allows us to increase our fleet size within our budget. Our 30-year shipbuilding plan provides for a range of high-end- to lower-end-capability ships, and will give us the number of ships we need to support global presence.

Given the long lead times necessary in shipbuilding, the American people must support shipbuilding in peacetime, years before threats come fully into view.

That means that we must invest now in the Fleet.

Peace has never been the natural state of mankind - it must be defended and preserved. Let us go forward and work to defend peace through a strong Navy and Marine Corps.

Donald S. Winter is secretary of the Navy. This essay is adapted from a speech delivered at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. on June 17, 2008.

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